The lord of the ring.
Although televised boxing is losing rounds to mixed martial arts (even Sixty Minutes thinks so, and what do they know about blood sports?), EA’s Fight Night series is still the king of the virtual ring. And with the recent PS3 launch, they’ve ushered in a new champion with a redux of Fight Night Round 3. Nearly identical to the Xbox 360 version, this contender sports an excellent new first person view mode, a single Sixaxis attack, and more incredible pugilism with uncanny renditions of boxing legends. If you own a PS3, every night should be fight night.
As mentioned, the big new addition is first person boxing. Dubbed "Get in the ring," this perspective has you looking through the eyes of your boxer, seeing only your two fists, the ring, and hopefully, your opponent. It works amazingly well. No longer will you mistakenly block left when you meant to go right, as your boxer is always facing in the same direction as you are. This makes parrying incoming punches and striking at your opponent’s ungaurded spots more intuitive than ever before.
[image1]It also looks spectacular. You can really see the beating you dish out reflected in your foe’s face, because you’re looking right into it. Things get even cooler looking when you’re on the receiving end of a beat down, as the screen grows red and blurry along with your swolen, cut eyes, while devastating punches are accented with white flashes to really drive home the point that you’re getting hit in the brain. It’s a great addition, and revitalizes this year old game.
The other new feature isn’t nearly as jaw dropping, the ability to throw a dirty head-butt or punch by thrusting the Sixaxis forward. Maybe I’m a goody-two-shoes, but I almost never use the head butt, meaning I never use the Sixaxis functionality in Fight Night Round 3. Way to go, EA, only five axes to go.
Aside from the first-person fighting and the new and improved head-butts, the only difference between this version and the 360 are the lengthier loading screens. That’s right, it actually takes longer to step in the ring here, in spite of the PS3’s burlier hardware. We don’t know why this is, although it’s most apparent when creating a fighter or shopping at the fight store, as new haircuts and new shoes take forever to appear. It’s really striking and gets the game off on the wrong foot when you have to wait ten seconds to see the difference between one moustache and the other. Once you get past creating a fighter, though, the regular loading screens aren’t that bad. Sure they’re long, but this game is always worth the wait.
The graphics aren’t notably better than they were on the 360 version, but still, the only thing out there with better graphics than Round 3 is Scarlett Johansson, and that’s subjective. The fighters are photo-realistic, the venues are perfectly lit and even the crowds look good. And then there’s the action. This game looks brilliant in motion, with droplets of sweat and blood exploding from bashed boxer faces that contort and deform from the force of punches so fast, they blur. Whew! Instead of using a health bar to keep track of your palooka’s well-being, you can read it just by the look on his face. If he’s breathing through an open mouth because his nose is congested with free-flowing blood and his eyes look more crossed than angry, you’re probably only a couple punches from a nap on the canvas.
[image2]In case you’ve never played a Fight Night game, you use the left stick to move around the ring and the right stick to throw jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts. You can also throw haymakers by winding back on the analog stick, and then firing forward. These take more time than ordinary punches, but do heavy damage. Hit an opponent with a haymaker at the right time, and they’ll enter a vulnerable state in which one solid punch will put them on the canvas. By pulling even farther back before swinging, you can execute a flash KO that will always put your opponent in a vulnerable state. Alternately, you can execute a stun punch that functions just like a flash KO, except the game shifts to a first-person view of the person in trouble, possibly disorienting them and giving you the opening to land another monster shot.
These new punches add an element of realistic danger to every fight, and they also place greater emphasis on the game’s weave and parry systems. By holding the L1 button and rolling the L-stick, your fighter will stay put, bobbing and weaving under punches. You can’t duck everything, though, and this is where blocking comes into play. To protect yourself, simply hold the block button plus up or down on the right stick. You can parry by blocking in the direction of an incoming punch, leaving your opponent open for a brutal counter.
This tight, analog control scheme is what makes Round 3 so absurdly fun to play. This is most apparent when boxing a friend in a Vs. match or an anonymous enemy online. The tale of the tape for these modes is basic in terms of options and trimmings. You can engage in normal battles, Hard Hits bouts (knockdowns end the round) and ESPN Classics online and off, but none of this communicates just how interesting it is to observe an opponent’s pattern of attack, counter and deliver a crushing blow.
Round 3 is really meant to be played against other people. The control scheme is simple enough for anyone to pick up quickly, deep enough to keep them playing for hours, and powerful enough to make victory ecstatic and defeat crushing. It’s just tons of fun. Although the online options are pretty much the same as they were in the 360 version, they’re still pretty robust, and the bouts themselves are easy to get into and relatively lag free.
The single-player options don’t pack nearly as much punch, however. Predictable A.I. and an extremely wimpy Career mode keep Round 3 from kicking ass in every arena. When you begin a career, you can either create a fighter or attempt to take an existing champ from the bottom of the boxing world to the top. Since your career plays out the identically whether you choose an existing champ or make a new one, you might as well just create a new boxer.
[image3]This is handled via the game’s sophisticated character creation system. Using sliders to tune everything from your fighter’s body type to the shape of his nose, you can spend hours tweaking his appearance, making him a pin-headed behemoth, a sharp-featured assassin or anything in between. That is, except a one-eyed, three-armed anatomical freak. While the customization options are deep, they don’t allow you to venture into any bizarre waters, which is a shame considering the way such a fighter would contrast with the game’s otherwise extremely realistic graphics.
Once your disappointingly human pugilist is ready, you’ll jump right into his career. This involves picking someone to fight, picking a trainer, training, fighting and doing the whole thing over again until you get sick of your job and retire. Picking an opponent is called "Signing a contract," but that suggests an illusory level of depth and realism. There’re no negotiations or crazy-haired promoters
, you simply decide who you want to face, and fight them.
Next you pick a trainer, of which there are three: one is free of charge, one costs quite a bit, and the last is expensive. What’s silly is the fact that paying a trainer’s fee only buys him for one bout. Then again, the only noticeable difference between trainers is the amount their cut-men heal you between rounds. If you don’t plan on taking a beating, one is as good as another, especially due to the fact that all their training regimens are identical. Before a fight you can work the heavy bag, the combo dummy, or lift weights. Each exercise is an extremely simple mini-game and buffs up a few of your attributes, while slightly diminishing the rest. This system is identical to the one found in Round 2 and could have used a little bulking up itself.
Eventually you’ll step into the ring. If you win, you’ll gain popularity in your, ugh, popularity meter, and when that fills, you get a shot at a title belt. In the previous game, you actually got a ranking and worked your way up to the number one spot. This was very basic, but at least realistic. The popularity system doesn’t seem to have anything to do with real boxing and makes career mode feel like a meaningless string of fights.
The other single-player modes are equally glass-jawed. ESPN Classics mode lets you relive famous fights, but other than being presented in black and white, they’re just like any of the ‘Play Now’ bouts. In an absurd twist of inaccuracy, these old-time fights feature brand new ads for, say, Dodge or Burger King, which plague pretty much every mode in the game. This review is brought to you by Ball Stomping Doritos
, by the way. Mmmmm.
[image4]To match the thin single-player content, Round 3 features a pretty trim cast of fighters. Several unexpected greats make the cut, such as Roberto Duran and Manny Pacquiao, but there are equally conspicuous omissions and several of the fighters appear in dual weight classes. Do Roy Jones Jr. and James Tony really need to be included as light heavyweights and heavyweights, when the game entirely omits George Forman, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis? At least the game perfectly captures the styles and idiosyncrasies of its select few. Roy Jones’ insane flurries are as frighteningly fast as ever, Pacquiao looks just as wild and expertly out of control in the game as he does on TV, and Muhammad Ali floats like a butterfly and, occasionally, stings like a bee.
The sound effects are still unbelievable, conveying a sense of impact completely unique to Round 3. Staggering punches don’t just look painful, they sound painful. And if you get popped in the head hard enough, you’ll actually hear ringing for awhile. Incidentally, painful is also a good word to describe the commentary, which is inaccurate and repetitive, and the soundtrack, which is a bad assortment of overproduced hip-hop tracks.
Fight Night Round 3 may not have a spotless career, but with such hard hitting graphics and intense Vs. action, we’re willing to forgive its foibles and trumpet its unparalleled successes. If you bought a PS3, this game is the reason why. However, if you already own this game on the 360, the PS3 version is only worth a rental for the new first-person perspective. Show your friends, taunt your nephews, ignore your girlfriend – this game has the heart of a champion and is pound for pound one of the best PS3 games around.